An Empathetic Cure
Updated: Apr 12
It’s a story which takes place far too often. An altruistic individual sets out with the best of intentions to fight for fairness in the community or perhaps in the world at large. In some cases, these individuals overcome poverty or other adversities, and with great courage, determination, and effort prevail when the odds were greatly stacked against them. Becoming a hero of sorts to multitudes, but eventually falling victim to the corruption, dishonesty, or immorality they fought so valiantly to protect.
This circumstance has no bias on whom it bestows its curse. No gender, nationality, race nor religion is exempt from its horrific spell, and it’s been chronicled on all rungs of society. It has also perpetually been repeated throughout the history of humankind - or rather humans being unkind, which is a more accurate way of portraying it.
The headlines frequently depict scenarios of politicians, celebrities, and business leaders who’ve succumbed to the lure of their own importance or ego. Their position, status, or wealth becomes a figurative key to open any door which they deem accessible. These stories rarely end well for those once-highly-respected individuals. It would stand to reason with the frequency of these stories, this ought to be an easily avoidable pitfall. Apparently, that is not the case.
Why do so many become the prey to these same inequities they originally strove to eradicate? How does someone who maintained such high integrity and justice, become ensnared by the enemy they previously and courageously had slain?
It is not a prerequisite nor a requirement for people to betray their once-loved ambitions. Certainly, the lure of money or power can influence even those with the highest of intentions. However, is there something even more compelling than worldly temptation?
How power affects the brain
Dascher Keltner, an author and social psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted studies which demonstrated how people with perceived power can lack the ability to feel empathy, read emotions in others, and have trouble adapting to others’ behaviors. His research also showed how the notion of power can actually change the way our brains function.
Perhaps a familiar story for many is when someone at work gets promoted to a managerial position and suddenly starts acting as though he or she has reached dictator status. The once thoughtful and kind person you believed you knew has now been usurped by this tyrannical and authoritarian bully.
Historically, supervisory and executive positions were taught to lead with an iron fist. It’s as though it’s part of their job description as managers to “lead” their teams by yelling, demeaning, and cursing at their employees, fully believing it’s the most effective way to get their “army” to produce. However, this line of reason is fraught with misconceptions, fallacies, and essentially feeds and expedites the demise of the individual deploying these boorish managerial strategies.
It’s not inevitable for everyone who is suddenly endowed with power to make this drastic transformation. Many prominent individuals have averted this tragic path which regularly engulfs others, indicating there must be an effective strategy against this terrible affliction.
An empathetic cure
The key is to examine the actions of those who never surrendered to this line of thinking as well as others who were victorious in their struggle against their former insidious rational, and once again are using better human-interaction skills.
It takes two strategies to overcome this challenge:
· Having the proper tools and techniques to fight these compulsions
· Understanding it takes determination and lots of effort to be victorious
Many people are willing to work hard at anything beneficial to their lives. But all the hard work in the world won’t do any good if it’s not being deployed effectively.
As simple as it may sound, the key to regaining empathy for others is to start having empathy for others.
Begin by eagerly communicating and truly listening to what people are saying. Do your best to imagine and experience the emotions they are facing as they talk about their concerns and difficulties. Realize the best way to understand their issues is to be willing to become vulnerable yourself.
The sense of feeling power instigates feelings of superiority and incorrectly infers vulnerability is akin to weakness. Believing we are endowed with power is arrogant, and the ego has no choice but to create a mindset of control and self-importance. The best way to defeat this line of thinking is to become aware that you must change this line of thinking.
Involve others, especially if your power is work related. Willingly receive input from those who do the work. Your trust in them will in turn generate great respect for you. If your perceived power is more in the social world, recognize you must intentionally strive to change your behavior. Pay much more attention, put yourself in their shoes, and try to feel how they are feeling. Always remember, vulnerability is a huge key to having empathy. By no means is being vulnerable a sign of your weakness.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall prey to the selfish, unempathetic, and arrogant thinking when we perceive ourselves in positions of power. Studies have shown this is a natural tendency. To evade or overcome this kind of thinking will require diligence and strength. As with anything for which we strive to be successful, it calls for effort. Be aware it’s an incredibly challenging struggle battling against what could be our natural inclinations.
Fortunately, if we happen to fall in its trap, we are not doomed. We can overcome it by changing the way we think about ourselves. And the best way to start that change is by forgiving ourselves for ever acting in such dreadful ways. If there is one message I’ve learned during this current situation, it’s we all are truly connected. Living a full and happy life demands we include an empathetic attitude toward others as we make this world a better place for our existence.